I’m Being Stalked By Fat-Shamers — & I’m Still Fighting

Photo: Courtesy of Lindsey Averill.
This article was originally published on August 8, 2015. Lindsey Averill is one of the most optimistic and ambitious activists I've ever met — despite the onslaught of horrific bullshit she faces every day, as you'll read about here. I met her when she interviewed me for her upcoming documentary, and after hearing her story, I asked if she would share it in the column. As a person and a fighter, Lindsey is a great reminder of what it means to keep going when so many try to make you stop. — Kelsey A little over a year ago, some dude from the ugly underbelly of the internet decided that me and my business partner, Viri Lieberman, were worth tormenting. It all began because of our documentary, Fattitude, which exposes how our culture is filled with fat hatred and fat shaming. This jerk (who doesn't deserve any more press, so will remain unnamed) sicced his 5,000 followers on us; soon, we were berated with violent emails, letters, and phone calls. There were the rape threats and the death threats. People even sent random food deliveries to our homes (there is a joke there, but it's really not funny). I used to be a fun, joy-filled, blabbermouth kind of girl. Then, I became the kind with a bat propped against her front door, pepper spray in her purse, and an ever-vigilant watch on all those in her vicinity. I felt violated and afraid. The struggles of being fat in a world that worships at the throne of thinness are muddy and dense. There are clear injustices — the legit systemic inequalities and well-documented biases. Then, there's the internalized social garbage and hatred that you carry with you. I have always been fat. Sometimes more fat than other times, but always fat. So, I know firsthand that living in a fat body means being judged. It means having to work harder to prove your value. It means that my nickname as a kid was "wonderblob." It means that for years, I ate 400-800 calories a day and no one worried. It means that I gave up on so many things before I began because even though I was smart and talented, I didn't believe that anyone would hire, cast, trust, follow, or love a fat person. For decades, I dieted and hoped I could change. While working on my PhD in my early 30s (drowning in a sea of feminist and body-image philosophy), it finally dawned on me: I didn't have to ingest (pun intended) all the negative, nasty hatred that the world directed at my fat body. I could choose to forge my own path — to fight back and to treat my body with the respect it deserved. I could to choose to move it and nourish it and relish its grace and bad-assery. I could be revolutionary by just liking myself. Once I had this epiphany, I wanted to share. I suddenly felt like the guru of my own domain, and I wanted everyone else to have that feeling, too. I wanted to show everyone who was wrapped up in self-hatred — whether at 200 lbs or 21 lbs — that they could choose a different path. I would pass other fat people on the street and think: If I could share this with you, the burden would lift! You would still be fat, but fat would be fine, and you could feel more free and happy! But, you can't walk up to strangers on the street and be like, "Hey, fatty. Feeling down?" Instead, Viri and I decided to make a movie: Fattitude. Since our filmmaking methods were super indie (like, duct-tape-and-shooting-at-your-mom's-house indie), we looked to the magic of crowdfunding to raise our seed money. That's when all hell broke loose and the threatening phone calls started. When you ask people if it's okay to be mean about other people's bodies — fat or otherwise — they know the correct answer. They know that body shaming is wrong. Furthermore, when you show people the data that shows fat discrimination is on par with the kinds of injustice we see based on race, they are horrified and think change is needed. Then, they go home and laugh at all the fat jokes on TV. There's a strange disconnect — a synaptic fissure in our culture. The universal distaste for fatness is so loud that it drowns out our sense of right and wrong. We claim to value treating all people with respect. But, that value gets easily lost in jokes, jargon, and unconscious bias. So, what do you do? Do you let the trolls and the jerks win? Do you allow yourself to get backed into a corner, curl into a ball, and block out the world? You can't. It's just not an option. Instead, you have to snarl, rage, and kick your way out — until you have them cowering in the corner on the other side of the room. (That metaphor is pretty violent for me. I'd prefer to trap them in glitter, kisses, and rainbows, but you get the idea.) So, a few days after our torment began, I picked myself up and called the media. In telling my story, I fought back. I raised my voice and said, "This is not acceptable." You don't hide the kid being bullied from the bully; you acknowledge the wrongdoing and work to reeducate and heal the bully so that he or she learns that bullying isn't cool. You don't say, "Oh, that's just how people are. There is nothing you can do." YOU DO. You change the system. You wake up every morning, put on your armor, and head out into the fight — because fighting for a better, kinder world is worth being growled at and threatened. My body is no one else's business, and neither is yours. It's been over a year, and we still get hate mail. But, we also get love letters — heartfelt praise claiming that Fattitude's five-minute trailer makes each day little easier. And, sometimes when I am at the mall or a cocktail party and I see another fat person, I figure out how to strike up a conversation, and I tell them about it. Maybe it isn't going to change everything and everyone overnight, but I trust that Fattitude will work its magic on some. And, eventually, I think that "some" is a pretty big sampling. Go ahead and call me a Pollyanna. I have no problem with that. I also have no grand delusions that the culture is going to flip on a dime, and suddenly all the fat people will wake up, go outside, and jiggle for joy because they're being treated with the respect all beings deserve. But, I have faith that the synaptic fissure will heal, and someday all people will realize that the way we treat those living in fat bodies is wrong. When that tide turns, I will have been rowing against the current the whole time. I will be one of the voices that was on the right side of history. The Anti-Diet Project is an ongoing series about intuitive eating, rational fitness, and body positivity. You can follow Kelsey's journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject (hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments, too!). Got a question — or your own Anti-Diet story to tell? Email kelsey.miller@refinery29.com.

More from Body

R29 Original Series